Drug policy effects are inacurrate and contradictory


I just started the game and am loving it. As a game, it is very fun. It is not fully balanced yet, but is an impressive achievement already and I enjoy it a lot nonetheless. More so, I feel it is a great educational tool that can illustrate much about how a modern government and state economy works. This is the reason that I appreciate all the apparent effort that has gone into constructing a non-biased representation of a modern country, with all of the pitfalls of conflicting political views and social theories. I have a major issue with one thing, though. The way drug policy works in the game has has some serious issues with regards to factual accuracy and internal consistency. I am sorry to see it broken, as it’s one of the core issues of modern penal policy and is economically greatly significant.


Allow me to illustrate what bothers me by illustrating my playing experience. I picked France, got social programs going on, BDP was good with a nice budget surplus and a 96% approval with “socialist” policies. I legalised all drugs, because fuck yeah, my country is liberal, we can do this, man. Freedom!, and all that jazz.

Immediately, crime went up and drug use skyrocketed. I got a “drug addiction” problem in my country. There was no way to allay this issue, aside from increasing law enforcement funding, which makes absolutely zero sense, since

  1. all drugs are now legal and no longer police business in any way;
  2. war on drugs and punitive policies increase drug use rates, as shown in numerous studies.

The game does not offer harm reduction policies that would open rehab centres, help addicts get jobs, lose the stigma and resocialize, the way progressive countries reduce addiction with a great measure of success. The recreational drugs tax helps, but not much. It does, however, make young people hate my government for it. They didn’t hate me in particular for banning drugs, so now young people, as a group, hate me more than they did when they were facing fines and jail sentences for possession. Conservative youngsters also mind the tax. It’s quite absurd. It should raise their cynicism, at most, but the net effect with liberal young voters should definitively be a strong positive for legalisation with taxation.

Due to the drug addiction situation, public health took a large dip. This was a consequence of legislation that enables people to buy drugs from known and accountable retailers who are subjected to health inspection scrutiny. Legalized drugs destroyed a perfect society! A cautionary tale to all would-be policy makers.

However, I received no foreign relations penalties that would undoubtedly follow for any country legalizing everything. It is against UN rules, after all, and should be subjected to some severe sanctions. This is stopping Portugal from outright legalization, after all. I got off really easy. But I suppose they must have not heard about it, since glorious France also did not receive any tourism benefit that would surely result from drug users flocking from more repressive countries.

The whole ordeal my simulated country is going through is diametrically opposite to what happens in reality when you decriminalise banned drugs. A harm reduction approach instead of user penalization policies proved to be a great success where used (Portugal, Switzerland, Czech Republic). Portuguese drug use rate halved in only 12 years! Contrast this with a steadily growing drug use rate in the USA, with mandatory minimum drug related sentences, and a cca. 15 billion dollar annual DEA budget.


The way legalized drug policy shows it’s in-game effects is very odd: it directly influences stuff it really should only affect via affecting their causes. The chain of causation (in a legal drug use scenario, taking organized crime from the picture) is this:

Drug use -> Addiction -> Poverty -> Non-violent Crime -> Parental Disapproval
… Violent Crime

Clarity of design would dictate that drug policy should affect drug use only, and other variables change due to that change - this is the benefit of your excellent neural network game engine. However, legalizing drugs affects many parameters directly. It does not make sense for the following reasons:

  1. The sheer act of legalizing drugs suddenly and sharply increases drug addiction. Addiction rates should be factored by the general drug use rate and modified by poverty, unemployment, education and the official stance on drugs (believe it or not, tough drug policies make it hard for addicts to quit, thus increasing their number). This arbitrary increase of addiction forces us to conclude that in the world of Democracy 3, legal drugs become more addictive than banned ones the day the bill is passed.

  2. The parental backlash is unrealistic. Most parents are not against at least partial decriminalization. In fact, over half of US parents support the decriminalization of marijuana. The issue is not about being a parent, it is about being conservative vs. liberal. After all, most parents are very concerned about law enforcement interfering in what is, for them, a domestic issue. The stance that all parents are inherently against legalizing drugs is askew of the facts towards a conservative bias.

  3. Legalisation of all drugs directly increases non-violent crime rate. The opposite should happen, since I just binned a large part of penal law. Using, buying and selling drugs is no longer a criminal activity, where before it consisted a large piece of the crime pie. The non-violent crime rate should significantly drop on this account alone. The opposite happens, though, which really makes me wonder: how can more crime possibly be a direct result of legalization? Keep in mind that this is not a result of more addiction at the low income bracket, because that is tracked separately. The policy itself directly increases criminality.

The only possible explanation is absurd, and is as follows. Illegal drug users in the world of Democracy 3 use drugs only because they are illegal. When you legalize drugs, this happens: after being deprived of their relatively harmless release valve for criminal activity (the game doesn’t monitor this under crime), they move on from drug use to petty theft, fraud and embezzling to satisfy their urge for lawbreaking. In turn, law-abiding citizens who would never do something illegal now take up drugs. They get addicted at an alarming rate because drugs are much more addictive when legalized.


The chain of causation is rather silly. It also makes managing legalized drugs unrealistically difficult. The effects that the game simulates, namely the direct increases in drug use and addiction rates and criminality, are often used as rhetoric in the political arena against decriminalization or legalization. However, they have been consistently disproved with ample empirical evidence. Today, we can be fairly certain that legalization does not increase crime, or in fact drug use itself. The reasons we are still prohibiting are political, and the threats that would stem from it imaginary.

The game should represent this - a far greater conservative and backlash seems realistic, but parents should not be universally antagonized. If you implemented differing politcapital costs for pushing sliders further, gradual decriminalization over time would have to be required. Foreign relations should suffer due to UN/EU drug trade sanctions at a certain level. Tourism should get a boost. But most importantly, crime, addiction or drug use should not increase as a direct result of this policy. Legalization should open options for harm reduction policies, reducing addiction without police involvement.

I believe in the future of games as more than simple fun. Your game can be a shining example of accessible and fun education. This is why I feel strongly about the way the game represents drug policy and omits any sort of harm reduction approach as a policy alternative to war on drugs.

I agree. It’s way too simplistic a view that legalizing all drugs would increase drug problems. In Portugal or Spain (can’t remember which) literally the opposite happened.

Actually Portugal didn’t legalise drugs, what they did was decriminalise use and instead fund medical options. Essentially this means that it is illegal to sell drugs but if you use them it’s not a crime (sort of, there are still various problems if you do regularly use drugs like not being able to practice certain professions).

See here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_policy_of_Portugal

Approval bump!

Although I might suggest trying a play though where you set the same ultimate goals, but make many small changes over a few terms. In the end you achieve your goals, but I found that this game does a very good job of punishing you for shocking the system. I had the same experience playing as Canada, and trying to completely separate church and state. When I did it all at once, the cold heads put a jihad on me and assassinated me…repeatedly. On my most recent play, I must have made about 40 small adjustments to creationism vs evolution over many terms, and it got the job done without any car bombs.

I agree. Legalizing marijuana for instance isn’t REALISTICALLY going to skyrocket crime.

ALSO I have a serious issue with the idea that increasing the drinking age will decrease alcohol abuse. If you drink from a young age and learn to respect alcohol THIS will decrease alcohol abuse. The best way to INCREASE alcohol abuse is to stop teens from having it until they are old enough to REALLY do some damage. Shakes head Scandinavian countries as far as I understand have very liberal laws concerning drugs and alcohol and crime is much lower. America has WAY more crime and alcohol issues than say Australia where you can drink at 18. You let people vote but not drink? Also, I’m not talking about adult’s abusing alcohol there isn’t much you can do about that by raising the age but in general especially with teens. It’s to simplistic in this regard I agree.

I totally agree. By legalizing Marihuana crime rates would actually drop.

I accept the argument for a reduction in non-violent crime if drugs are made legal (as you say, you’ve just scrubbed part of the penal code). However, I think a boost to addiction is justified purely on access grounds. These are chemically addictive substances, and if access is made much easier, there’ll be more addicts.

The examples in favour cited above don’t deal with legalisation; the Portuguese model works by decriminalising the drug users. However, drug use is still treated as a health problem to fix. Perhaps the drugs law policy needs switching a little to allow for this possibility.

Reality contradicts you in this situation however. This can be most clearly seen in the Netherlands where marijuana use has been condoned for many years and yet drug use numbers are below that of neighbouring countries that have stricter policies.

The reason this is so is because access does not equal use. The incentive to use drugs does not change based on the availability, these are two separate factors. In addition the barrier to entry is higher if you need to go to a legal or condoned establishment to get your drugs rather then buying them from a guy on the street next to a bar.

So in my opinion, there should be a policy you can implement to offset drug use. I think legalizing it will yield some new addicts, but there needs to be a policy option of like “Drug Awareness” that educates the public on the dangers of drugs. This would help reduce drug addiction, but might take awhile to implement (4-8 turns to fully implement).

Also, not sure if this is currently in the game, but more funding for state hospitals (maybe private as well) would also lower drug addiction.

So if you have a robust healthcare, along with drug awareness programs, you can offset legalizing drugs.

Some other things impacted by legalizing…

Private prison wealth should go down and jobs should go down (less people needed to enforce laws).

Also, immigrants might play a role into it. I know that places like Netherlands they have very little immigration, which helps them feel a bond to their fellow man. So part of me says more immigration should lead to more drug abuse.

People who want to do drugs are doing them already. Maybe not the exact type of drug they would like at the price they could pay without consequence, but getting some sort of narcotic is really no problem. Drug use has not increased where decriminalized, unless you focus on in-your-lifetime self-reported use percentages. Those numbers increased, although it is not clear whether we are just getting a more accurate picture of what has really been going on.

Better access also drops drug prices, which reduces crime overall - it is not just due to pushing definitions. Addicts who can afford their habit don’t need to beg, steal or deal, so there is objectively less crime happening. Having the police force do other things than process drug users also frees up resources for general law enforcement.

Portugal is treating drugs as a health AND social issue, and that’s a big difference right there. The game lacks any social policy at all, not even stuff that has been around for decades, such as sterile needle giveaways. Rehab centers should be present as a policy, with intensity ranging from “mandatory” to “voluntary”. Voluntary rehab is more efficent, but displeases conservatives the way having an overall harm reduction policy instead of criminalization does.

We’ve been educating people on the danger of drugs for the last 60 years, thus successfully creating a market for them. What people need to know now is how to take them safely. This would be an example of a risk and harm reduction policy, where you get off the moral high horse and deal with mitigating harmful effects of drug use. Social stigma is a big problem in perpetuating addiction. Misinformed campaigns á la “Your Brain on Drugs” or “Just Say No” do nothing to improve or even address it.

I agree that social policies are sorely required, but there should be a plurality of options between momentarily popular conservative and/or religious “thy soul be damned” scare education or progressive harm reduction policies. Both exist and have different political and real effects. I would be very impressed to see the game simulate this instead of having an all-out war on drugs as the only option. Funny thing is, there are some policies in the game that have a positive effect in reducing drug harm, such as financing youth centres, but they don’t do that in-game.

The problem in my play situation was not political. France was a progressive social democratic (or “socialist”, as the game calls it) one party state. I scored some massive political points on that drug policy and received zero extremist backlash, which I found somewhat unrealistic. The problem was in the simulated economy going down the sinkhole due to productivity issues caused by the addiction and lower overall health. The factors here are constant and can’t be mitigated by smaller increments over time, the end situation would be just as bad as in my playthrough. Addiction should be factored by a ton of things, with narcotics use being only the base for factoring. The direct increase that results from legalization is just broken.

I agree, the alcohol thing bothered me too. You can’t just link crime rates and alcohol and then compare US with Sweden, though, that’s simplifying the issue a tad much. :slight_smile: However, the idea that prohibition is in any way effective has been spectacularly proven a fantasy over and over again. Social policies can help, unemployment, poverty and disenfranchisement hurt. Also, alcohol consumption stops rising with GDP after a rather low threshold is reached. It would be fun to play a muslim country, though. :slight_smile:

I just wanted to chime in and agree with the excellent points above. To sum up, the way addiction and substance abuse issues are currently modelled in the game is based on stereotypes and is not at all supported by the available evidence. The drug addiction crisis event is particularly problematic. A better way of modelling this policy change, instead of increasing crime and health impacts (which as discussed at length above the evidence suggests should actually both decrease modestly), would be to model the strong social opposition to the policy with much larger dislike modifiers for groups like conservatives, parents, maybe a few others.

The infamous “+1”.

Crime rate aside, legalizing Marijuana in the US will give a major boost to the textile industry by freeing low-cost HEMP as a raw material.
So I’d even increase the GDP a tiny tiny bit.